Republican lawmakers who represent New York in the House of Representatives urged state officials to “completely reverse” the 2019 law that ended cash bail requirements for many criminal charges in a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul, pointing to a rise in violent crime.
The letter signed by the eight Republicans who represent New York in Congress, including candidate for governor Lee Zeldin, was sent as Democratic lawmakers and the governor negotiate potential changes that could expand the criteria for when cash bail could be set.
Meanwhile, advocates who support the current version of the law warned Democrats would have “blood on their hands” if any changes were made.
The rhetoric over the law, seen as a key criminal justice law change in order to keep low-income defendants from waiting too long in jail for their trial, has developed into a polarizing debate over public safety as voters in New York cite crime as a major concern heading into the election season.
Hochul has called for changes that would expand bail requirements to include certain gun charges as well as alleged repeat offenses. At the same time, negotiations have also centered around making changes to the state’s law meant to provide faster access to evidence during the discovery phase of a criminal case.
The changes are being considered as part of a broader state budget plan, which had been expected to pass on Friday, the start of the state’s fiscal year. Lawmakers are expected to approve a stopgap spending measure to temporarily fund the government if no deal can be reached on Monday.
As Hochul has sought to thread a delicate needle on the issue, Republicans have hammered Democrats over the rise in crime.
“Any proposal that fails to repeal the entire bail reform and enact a ‘dangerousness standard’ that allows judges to thoroughly consider public safety when making bail or pretrial decisions is unacceptable,” the Republican House members wrote.
Supporters of the law contend there is no link between the increase in violent crime and the recent changes to the criminal justice system in New York. Democratic lawmakers have pointed to the societal disruptions created by the pandemic as the root cause, as well as the increase in crime across the country.
Adding a “dangerousness” standard is considered a non-starter, meanwhile, for both advocates who support the law as well as many Democratic lawmakers in Albany.
As the budget and criminal justice talks have dragged on, advocates have once again sought to highlight why the law was changed in 2019 in the first place: the death of Kalief Browder, a Bronx teen who later died by suicide after he was held for years at the Rikers Island jail.
“This is why we’re here,” said Anthony Dixon with the Parole Preparation Project, referring to Browder. There is a racial divide in New York. We need to be brutally honest. Unless we are honest, we cannot tackle it. There are two New Yorks. One with the milk of prosperity and the resources to thrive. The other with despair and hardship.”